N+1, Issue 7: Correction (Fall 2008)

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Gardner, reanalyzing most recently the agricultural and economic data for the period, notes that US farms produce seven times the amount of food they did in , while having shed two-thirds of their laborers. We live far enough after the period of the modernization of food to condescend to its achievements.

The technical achievement of super-abundance led to a predictable but short-lived celebration of technicized food itself: a commercial fetishism of the techniques of freezing and refrigerated transport, Swanson dinners and Birds Eye vegetables, and a lust for the re-engineering, preservation, and shelf stability that made Cheez Whiz and the Pringle out of smooth Wisconsin milk and bursting Idaho potatoes.

Corresponding to modernization was an early modernism of food, a recognizable trajectory through attitudes well known to us from painting or design or writing. Postwar modernization theory held that modernizing was exclusively an economic-technical achievement, one which stood apart from the sorts of aesthetic regimes that succeeded one another in progress in the arts, but it was not so. Today we participate in a late modernism and even a postmodernism of food. We witnessed, after the triumph of a previously unquestioned project, a characteristic latecoming struggle around the nature and direction of progress.

These were the parts that were said to live and germinate, against an antiseptic modernist technics of death: the Bomb and pasteurization were made by the same culture. The historian Warren Belasco has extensively documented both the actions and the imagination of the early food counterculture. Soon a more flexible capitalism proffered a new set of options which allowed the dissolution, or simply the side-by-side juxtaposition, of opposites, and a new field of cooperation. Food scientists and processors ceased to fight their former opponents, as they were licensed by the counterculture to formulate new concoctions and mine new markets evaluated, not by opposition or refusal, but along the common metric of health.

Food science, to make this clear, was not intrinsically evil nor flawed, and the food counterculture was not just about optimizing toothsomeness and health, but about opposing an established order wherever it had become complacent. Whenever utopians present the substance of their wishes, a fair number of their dreams do come true, though sometimes in forms other than the ones they had anticipated. Small-scale petroleum drilling had already begun in the s and s and was sufficient as a coal substitute until recently. The Wright brothers made their successful experiments in aerial locomotion in Health today cannot be understood apart from its refusal of mortality—not through the discovery of a fountain of youth, but through the bargain that, if men and women will obey health guidelines and regulate themselves as they are told and buy the right products for care, they can lengthen their life spans without any absolutely fixed term.

New food entertainments have changed the character of the tradition devoted to cooking and dining. Food generates constant discourse. We are learning to take our foods at a remove. Second, our entertainments create a standpoint of satiety or disinterest from which we can contemplate food without hunger and find pleasure in that contemplation.

Liebling to M. Fisher to Ruth Reichl. Chronicles appear of a single comestible through history, cod or salt. The Food Network delivers twenty-four-hour TV programming devoted to cooking and eating: interminable specials on barbecue, semi-celebrities peddling the delights of chipotle. It may seem odd to think of food warnings and diet plans as entertainment, too. Should we eat wild or farmed fish; is chocolate healthy, and is red wine?

Nor was it just about contamination—it concerned a weekly shift in knowledge. On one channel, we have competitive eating, broadcast as sport; on another, a weight-loss game show, The Biggest Loser. On one, how an automated factory makes Ho Hos; on another, the nutrition report. Their purpose? They may constitute a more fully integrated system at the level of social regulation, underlying what look like contradictory temperaments and local interests.

Beauty must not be confused with attractiveness. A painted bunch of grapes should not inspire hunger. One should not think how well a painted horse would ride. In principle, real food should never be aestheticizable under this regime, because it will always be seen as an object to be enjoyed.

Part of what is astonishing about the present order is that it does make food available, at times, for something more like disinterested aesthetic appreciation. And this allows the step backward from immediacy that perhaps lets us think of our mortality, our bodily incarnation in its journey toward death, as likewise groomable, accessible to recipe—and preparation, and taste—if not yet subject to an absolute choice of when we die. You can eat your PowerBar, product of an engineering as peculiar as any the world has known, and wash it down with unpasteurized unfiltered cider pressed by Mennonites, and on both fronts, you find it good.

The food imagination of our moment is different than we think, and needs to be excavated, category by category. He wishes he could take a pill that would cover all of his physical hunger for two weeks, say, or a month. Then he would only have meals when he wanted to, purely for pleasure: he would be completely delivered from the bodily responsibility to consume food. Another friend wishes for a magic food that could be eaten all the time, in satiating quantities, in different flavors, that would require exactly as many calories to chew and digest as it contained.

This is the rumor about celery—that it has just as many calories as must be burned to process it. Then she would not have to monitor what she ate; then she could eat as large a quantity of food as she wanted, to gratify any hint of hunger, without it being incorporated into her body as weight. In forensic television like House and CSI , we see first the sick patient in the hospital bed, or the expired corpse on the slab, diagnosed by the team; then a computer graphic of the insides of the stomach or heart wall or liver in churning color; then the modifications to show the new pathological state: ugly, green-infested, bacteria pinging like lottery balls.

We want, ourselves, never to approach that bad state. Never to be corroded. At such times, we really do want our insides to look beautiful. We have somehow seen our own healthy stomachs, hearts, or livers, and feel a longing for them, as we learn what has gone wrong for some fictional person. Food fears : When a third friend is about to eat a food that has fat, especially meat fats or hydrogenated oils, he imagines the interior arteries of his heart becoming clogged with a yellow-white substance, like margarine or petroleum jelly.

When he eats calories or fats, he imagines individual particles entering shrunken fat cells in his belly and sees them stretch and become oblong. When he eats meat, he imagines it passing through his colon with a rough texture that scrapes the walls, roughening them, to make them susceptible to cancer. He conceives an evil superfat, beyond palm oil, soybean oil, and trans-fatty acidic frying oil, that can spread from food into every cell, hardening the arteries, clotting as plaque, making him obese. Nothing fails to be incorporated. It is as if the somatic record registered all the adulterations and processes of our foods even more than the ingredients.

Perhaps, too, the type of labor that went into them—even the intention with which that labor was done. Healthy taste : Taste is conditioned by ideas. Sweet, salt, sour, and bitter are said to be physiological universals. Subsequently taste is conditioned by will and effort. The savors of coffee, bitter chocolate, wine, beer, anchovies, brine, sharp cheeses, Brussels sprouts, all have to be learned with intellectual and physiological effort—for some people with more difficulty, for others less.

The taste of health is one of these. Taste also becomes a product of comparison and decision. At a highway rest stop, I wanted a hamburger, but I bought a turkey sandwich. The roll was cardboardy, the turkey metallic, the lettuce white; but underneath it all, because of the self-denial and the act of choice, it had a peculiar flavor—it tasted healthy. The Jetsons : When George and Judy Jetson wanted to make a meal, they entered the kitchen, reached under the counter, and pulled out a little pellet, a pill.

They put the pellet in the food oven, closed the door, opened it again, and now it was a steak. The pellet always became some very basic food—a plump turkey, a bowl of mashed potatoes, or an ice cream sundae with a maraschino cherry on top, for Elroy. Something unmarked; something common. And something whole. This vision of an ideal food future managed to get our real food future wrong in exactly the right ways. We have experienced a bifurcation of food along Jetsonian lines.

The Jetsons had a pellet. Now we eat the pellet. We call it a PowerBar or a multivitamin pill. We have constituent foods, fundamentally. On the other hand, we have provenance foods: foods with names and locales, that passed through particular hands to take their current forms, and carry something of their geographic and personal attachments with them anywhere they go.

Instead, Vermont organic fingerling potatoes with Sardinian olive oil, and a free-range grain-fed turkey raised cruelty-free. Food with origins, and sourced foods that carry with them a certain way of life and experience. Perhaps you even imagine what goes on in the consciousness of the animals in the lands where the turkeys range free. Gourmet vs. The gourmet of past decades wed himself to a single place: Western Europe, and more particularly France. He learned to cook a single alien cuisine, French, and his time and attention went toward two basic activities, cooking and importing.

He cooked a limited palette of dishes and learned a set sequence of techniques. Julia Child exemplified the old gourmet. The foodie differs in having the whole world at his fingertips. There is no one other region. There is the globe. The foodie wades out and swims in possibility.

Correction

And then, surprisingly, many a foodie will deliberately restrict his range. He begins to set rules or laws for himself that make the quest for food harder and the thinking more complex. A foodieism even exists of carnivorousness, or disgust: eating body parts that have become disreputable or rejected.

The rules or laws of his restrictions may be contradictory, operating in different food spheres, yet the true foodie can keep several going simultaneously, or slip from one regime to another. Not everyone undertakes the path of restriction, or follows it rigorously, but enough do, and the trait is essential. The gourmet was always close to the snob. He wanted to be an aristocrat and identified with tradition. The foodie comes after the eradication of tradition.

He is not like an aristocrat, but like someone who has stumbled into obscene wealth by what seems to him happenstance— as, judging globally, any of us in the rich countries has stumbled into wealth by the luck of where we live, and into food-wealth by our system of cheap overabundance and our access to all the migrant cuisines that shelter in America and Europe.

Foodieism is a natural hobby for first-world professionals, ostensibly taking up the world, but referring back to the perfection of the enriched, corporeal self. It would be dishonest to suggest that we have not had critiques of the new food order. They come in two forms, and can represent a kind of fraternal warfare. Second, standing against them, the chef-, kitsch-, or ethnic-food worshipping gourmands occasionally strike back.

They accuse the nature-lovers of tampering with pleasure, acting like killjoys, or speaking condescendingly from a position of wealth from which the gourmands also speak, but never mind. His strategy in his book The Gospel of Food is to let nutrition scientists contradict each other in such a way as to create a chaos of knowledge. In this chaos, the best solution for eaters—until better information is available—may be to eat what you most enjoy, which, for Glassner, happens to be expensive Southern California restaurants in the contemporary foodie mode.

It takes its great moral gravity from the orientation with which Pollan starts: that of the public good, the good of the environment, even the interests of animals. The consequence of reliance on a single crop and the necessary introduction of artificial fertilizers has been land damage. Tractorized corn farming causes overexpenditure of fossil fuels in an artificial economy sponsored by the state leading to carbon pollution and fuel depletion. It makes for the cheapening of feed for food animals, particularly beef cows and broiler chickens, whose expanded ranks add wastes to the environment, while their removal from dependence on grassland allows humans to abuse them in ever more confining pens.

The subsequent lowering of the price of meat leads humans to eat too much flesh, because they can afford it, and thus suffer new health problems. And corn is further processed into all sorts of food-products fillers, binders, emulsifiers which are not easily found on their own in nature. One of the shocking moments in his book describes a chemical test that proves how much of the average American body has been built from molecules originating in corn. It depends to a high degree on charismatic genius simply to run from day to day. Can Pollan forage food?

He learns to pick extremely expensive mushrooms. Can he kill his meat? He hunts a wild boar. Whether or not one admires the path Pollan takes, one thing is clear. In his solutions, and in his reasoning about first principles, he is anti-progressive. He no doubt votes for Democrats; supports the right causes; has the right attitudes. The invariant parts of human nature, for Pollan, are rooted in our evolutionarily acquired attitudes to just such things as food.

They must suit us in some deep way. The line of thought in his short In Defense of Food intensifies this feeling. The most progressive food philosophy of the present day, in the strict sense of progress as opposed to conservation, is vegetarianism. On the basis of reason and morality, it calls for a wholesale change in the way that human beings have always eaten, and a renunciation of a central part of the human dietary past and all its folkways. Vegetarianism has not given up on utopia. I speak as a non-vegetarian.

Non-vegetarian because I am immoral, not because I think there is any good argument for carnivorousness. It is not true, what some philosophers say, that genuinely to hold a belief is necessarily to act on it. I hope I will learn to be moral, by and by. He will not stop eating meat, because humans have always eaten it. Non-dogmatic vegetarians are often the eaters who seem to have the greatest stake in progressive food production and food chemistry while still paying attention to the socially harmful forms of overproduction that critics like Pollan identify.

Pollan really possesses, as his true endpoint, not social change for the sake of the social, but change for health. Its fulfillment may require progress in science and progress in medicine. But it is always, fundamentally, progressive in an antisocial way. Though it claims to purify and strengthen the body politic, health has nothing to contribute to horizontal solidarity and democracy. The extent of aquifer salinization next to an estuarine river: an example from the eastern Mediterranean.

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